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Closing the gap on City: Six players Manchester United should sign this Summer

With Champions League qualification now sealed, Nathan Krogh makes the case for six players who United should sign this summer. The task of continuing the enormous turnaround at Manchester United has come, and with this, is the need to build quickly on what has been a fairly successful recruitment process for United manager, Erik Ten Hag.

The Dutchman has been a revelation at the club since his arrival in April last year, despite not being able to implement his style of play fully, but the ongoing ownership saga has thrown the club’s transfer plans in question as rumours of this summer’s war chest ranging from a £100 million + sales to around £300 million or more, should the new owners be in place.

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There are six players, I feel, the club should consider buying in order to narrow the gap between themselves and the blue half of Manchester. I will name my top choice that the club requires, as well as a budgeted option in one or two positions, to show that it does not take a lot of money to find a future gem.

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Striker: Top Option – Victor Osimhen (Napoli) – £120 million

One area that any side, who is looking to challenge for titles, needs in order to compete is a top, top striker that can consistently get 20+ goals a season. With United scoring 56 goals in this season’s Premier League, thirty-eight goals less than league winners Man City, the lack of clinical finishing has been evident for all to see and that includes the Ten Hag. At various points in the season, the United manager has stated his concern at the lack of a clinical finisher in front of goal and the reliance on Marcus Rashford to score the goals.

With names like Tottenham’s Harry Kane and Juventus’s Dusan Vlahović linked over the past couple seasons, it is in the city of Naples where I feel there is a striker who can really take United to the next level in the form of Victor Osimhen. This season alone, the Nigerian striker has bagged twenty-three goals in thirty appearances for the Azzuri as he played a huge role in leading them to their first Serie A title since the late, great Diego Maradona did the same back in the 1989/90 season.

However, despite his eye for goal, it is more his off the ball work that makes me believe he is the one that will bring Ten Hag’s high press style to fruition. In his days with Lille and, now, with Napoli, the Nigerian has been a consistent presser of ball and his blistering pacer combined with his intelligent runs on the blindside of defenders, make him a consistent goal threat.

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Striker: Cheaper Option – Rasmus Højlund (Atalanta) – £60 million

With the ownership of the club up in the air to this moment, the funds available to Erik Ten Hag are still unclear so a move for a top calibre striker like Osimhen may be off the cards. However, United have always had a rich history in finding young prospects and making them superstars, so it is no surprise there is a striker applying his trade in the same country as Osimhen that could follow down this road.

Atalanta’s 20-year old Danish striker, Rasmus Højlund, is one that has made the adaption from the Austrian league to Italy’s top division seamlessly as his impressive form for 9 goals in eighteen appearances for Strum Graz in the first half of 2022 saw many flock to the kid dubbed ‘the next Haaland’. At 6′ 1″, the young striker’s goal return this season of 8 goals in thirty appearances, eighteen of which were starts, may seem underwhelming but his overall game is what has highlighted to many across the football world that he will be a star in the future.

The Danish striker’s height has made him a consistent aerial threat from crosses and set pieces, combined with his determined mindset and killer instinct in front of goal has seen him likened to fellow Scandinavian striker Erling Haaland. Yet, there is more to Højlund’s game than just his talent in front of goal, with his versatility seeing him operate on the wing, as a second striker and even as an attacking midfielder for Atalanta, which is something that fits very well into a Ten Hag style of play albeit without the consistent press.

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CDM (Number 6): Top Option – Declan Rice (West Ham) – £100million

The role of protector in front of the back four was a position that hampered United in the post-Sir Alex Ferguson years but the acquisition of Casemiro from Real Madrid last summer has seemed to calm the whole team and added protection to the backline. However, at 31-years old, the Brazilian rock is not the long-term solution to what has become a key position in the modern game so when a true thoroughbred like West Ham skipper Declan Rice becomes available, it is one that cannot be passed up.

After being released from Chelsea’s academy at 7-years old, Rice was signed up to West Ham’s academy and risen through the ranks to now captain the side to it’s first European final since 1976. With this rise, there is a certain old school way in which Rice plays the game and his defensive qualities, alongside his calmness on the ball to orchestrate his side’s play, has made him the number one player in his position according to most football experts. On top of these qualities, the introduction of goalscoring and dribbling out from deep has made Rice’s game go to new heights and added to the notion of him being a leader on and off the pitch, a quality reminiscent of Casemiro at United now.

In order for United to move further towards their goal of returning to the pinnacle of English and European football, the position of midfielder enforcer is one that will be key and the leadership skills that Rice possesses are truly a rare thing in today’s glitz and glamour of the modern game.

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CDM (Number 6): Cheaper Option – Ryan Gravenberch – £30 million

In my opinion, Gravenberch is one of the most underrated midfielders in world football, despite his lack of impact since joining German giants Bayern Munich last summer in a £18 million pound deal from Ajax. At only 21-years of age, Gravenberch is a dynamic and versatile midfielder who has the potential to be of the same ilk as West Ham’s Declan Rice due to his comfort on the ball and ability to play box-to-box with ease. Not only can the young Dutch midfielder act as the composer of the midfield, but his ability to drive past players in order to get his side on the front-foot to then either score or start a dangerous attack is one that United desperately need still.

This season, the Dutchman has not managed a goal in his twenty-three appearances for Bayern Much but his impact is slowly starting to show in a switched deployment to a number 8, despite his 6′ 3″ stature making him a menace to get the ball past or over as he protects the back four. With his ability as a ball-carrying, line-breaking number 8, combined with his capability to go back to deeper role in order to build up play from the 6 position, Gravenberch’s adaptability is one of the reasons why I feel he would be a great addition to United as he offers everything you want in a midfielder, even though he is still a ways off reaching his true superstar potential.

As a much cheaper option than Rice, it would come to no surprise to hear that Gravenberch’s name has been heavily linked to United, as well as rivals Liverpool, and his close ties with Ten Hag from their Ajax days means the United manager knows exactly how to get the best out of the young midfielder and allow him to how the qualities that had Europe’s top clubs scrambling to get his signature last summer.

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Centre-Back: Jurriën Timber (Ajax) – £60 million

It is no surprise that I have selected a player from the prestigious club of Ajax as my centre-back of choice, instead of the already well sourced and potential new signing in Napoli’s South Korean centre-back, Kim Min-Jae, due to the young defender’s history with Ten Hag at Ajax. It is believed the Dutch manager is huge admirer and fan of the defender, as of course it was Ten Hag who introduced Timber into the first team, and who can blame him as he formed and impressive and seamless partnership with current United rock Lisandro Martinez.

As well as playing centre-back, Timber has been known to be just as impressive at right back which is a great trait to have as his adaptability is something that will prove very useful for Ten Hag is his revolution at Old Trafford, just like it did during their time together at Ajax. At only 21-years of age, the young defender has all the making to be a top, top superstar in world football and his partnership with Martinez at Ajax is one that would get many United fans excited, despite having the class of Varane who has had many injury problems. Together, Timber and Martinez conceded only nineteen goals in thirty-four league appearances during their final season together at Ajax and acted as the catalysts for Ten Hag’s fast breaks after winning the ball back in their own half, something that United fans can see is what the talented Dutch coach is trying to bring to the Theatre of Dreams.

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Goalkeeper: Andre Onana (Inter Milan) – £80 million

The position of United’s number one has been the topic of conversation throughout this season, despite David De Gea winning the Premier League’s Golden Glove as a result of keeping the most clean sheets. With the impressive shot-stopping and game saving qualities that the Spaniard brings, and has done in his twelve years with the club, the signs of weakness or uneasiness in playing out from the back has been the one area that has thrown the goalkeeper into the spotlight, as it is quite clear that this is what Ten Hag expects from his goalkeeper. This ability to play out from the back, seen now more than ever in the modern goalkeeper, is something that has been seen to really add the magic to the Dutchman’s philosophy of play and is an area that, though not as urgent, is one that may need addressing in the near future and one goalkeeper comes to mind that I feel fits the bill with ease.

Inter Milan’s Cameroon goalkeeper André Onana, is one to watch as he has had a brilliant campaign this season despite only keeping 8 clean sheets in twenty-three appearances. On the face of it, this statistic may not appear impressive but it is Onana’s 73% save percentage coupled with his ability to play out from the back, as if it was second nature to him, that make him one of the most sought after goalkeepers in world football right now, especially after helping the Nerazzurri reach this season’s Champions League final.

One other key to why I feel Onana is the best option out there is, like Timber and Gravenberch, the Cameroon goalkeeper worked under Ten Hag during his days at Ajax and it was under the Dutchman that Onana saw his game project upwards, compared to the two seasons he had at the club before the manager’s arrival. At a cost of around £60-£70 million, the Inter goalkeeper is one that I feel will adapt to the Premier League well and has the potential to become one of the world’s best, plus possesses all the attributes that Ten Hag looks for in his goalkeeper.

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